The Problem with Email

Over in the Ready Steady Pro community whenever we have discussions about inquiries and dealing with clients I always suggest the same thing (especially when it comes to dealing with dissatisfied clients). That advice is to Get on the phone! Speak to your clients.

Before I list the many reasons why I think you should be picking up the phone to your clients, let me give a little demonstration as to why trying to explain something or negotiate via email can be so challenging.

Misinterpretation & Misunderstanding

Here is a good example of the problem with an email. Let’s say that the bride from your most recent wedding has contacted you after receiving her photographs. She loves them, but as so many brides do nowadays, she asks politely via email:

“Is there any chance I could have a few more photographs? I’m keen to get the group photograph of my bridesmaids standing by the fountain”.

For the sake of this example lets say you didn’t actually take a photograph of the bridesmaids in a group at all and that you don’t have the photograph that the bride is requesting. Here is a sample response with no emphasis on any one word:

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain”

Ok granted, you would probably take the time to say that you didn’t actually make the photograph and you’d ‘fluff up’ the sentence a little to let her down more gently. However, what if the bride is frustrated that you didn’t make that photograph? What if your bride begins to put emphasis on certain parts of your sentence that aren’t actually there. What if your bride reads your reply as (from here it would help to read aloud if you can):

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain”


Well, that emphasis suggests that you did something to the bridesmaids by the fountain but perhaps you didn’t photograph them. Was it a video perhaps? Here’s the same sentence again, different word emphasized:

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain”

So you photographed some bridesmaids? Just not her bridesmaids? (Can you see what’s happening here?). Here’s another for fun:

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain”

Well if you didn’t photograph the bridesmaids by the fountain, who did you photograph by the fountain?!
And lastly:

“I didn’t make a photograph of your bridesmaids in a group by the fountain

Okay, so you photographed the bridesmaids, but you didn’t do it by the fountain. Well then where did you photograph them?

You see, emails can be interpreted in many different ways. It can often depend on who’s reading it! If you’re on the telephone however you are in control of the way your sentences come across. There is less to be questioned as you’re being clear about what you’re saying.

The Benefits of the Humble Telephone Call

You see, there is a lot lost in an email; tone of voice, expression, humour, enthusiasm, character. These are all very human qualities that can go a long way to building a relationship and a camaraderie between you and your client and sealing a deal! In a telephone call many of these qualities can come through and be felt and heard by the client on the other end of the line. By speaking to your client they will be able to hear that you’re genuinely interested in their dress, shoes, venue and flowers. You may even go off topic and find you have a common interest which is less likely in an exchange of emails.

Furthermore, not everyone today actually picks up the phone and talks to clients so it’s a really easy way of standing out from the other photographers you’re likely to be competing with for this business.

THERE’S MORE! Another added benefit of actually speaking on the phone to your clients or potential clients is that it’s so much faster than typing an email! You can be emailing back and forth for days, but with a telephone call you can often talk about all sorts of things in a fraction of the time.

Actually calling a client on the phone tells them that you exist and helps to paint a picture of you. Remember, your clients are likely to be paying what they consider to be a good rate for your services. Little things like telephone calls can go a long way to justifying why they’ve chosen you.

phone booth

The Drawbacks of a Telephone Call

Okay, so there are lots of positive reasons speaking on the telephone, but clearly it doesn’t suit ever photographer. Some may find it daunting to contact a client and speak to them. If you’re not a confident talker on the phone then perhaps you should stick to email for most of your communication.

The other drawback of the telephone call is of course that there is no record of what was said. But, this is what a good contract is for, so I’m not entirely sure that this one should be seen as a drawback. What I also tend to do is to send an email after our telephone call summarising the key points we discussed.

The last drawback that I can think of is somewhat related to confidence: sometimes a client may ask you a question that you’re not too sure about. But hey, you can just say ‘I’ll have to get back to you on that one’. So long as you deliver on your promise and call them back or email them that’s fine.

My Challenge to You

Are you a serial emailer? Do you always aim to reply to inquiries withing 24 hours of receiving them? Great! But now try calling back those clients instead of emailing them. If they haven’t provided a telphone number in their inquiry, email them back and ask for one, or provide yours and encourage a telephone call.

I’d be interested if you’ve made a choice to make more telephone calls following this post. If so what difference has it made, if any? Have you converted more inquiries into paid bookings or has nothing changed? Drop a comment below or join us over in the Ready Steady Pro Facebook community to continue this discussion


2 thoughts on “The Problem with Email

  1. I’m not a pro photographer. I’m in the exhibition industry and we get many emails ‘to a fro’ from clients, not only our conversations but also the conversation/points being made within the client team using cc or bcc. It is very frustrating to have to trawl through the whole of the email to ensure that nothing has been missed! Suffice to say that a telephone call would be a lot easier and more friendly and cannot be misconstrued as to style of delivery or comment. Sometimes I think there is a tendency to hide behind an email and in addition proof, or ‘cover’ of the sender by “I said it there it is its writing’ The telephone is always the best, and in the photography industry surely a more friendlier approach.

    • You make an extremely valid point there Paul and perhaps one I missed; about people hiding behind emails.

      One thing I guess I forgot to mention is that people seem to be very happy to complain via email and to put forward an angry persona. All too often (not in my photography, thank goodness) If I’ve received an angry email I find that when I call them they’re not quite so quick to show the same anger that they portrayed in their words. It’s not always the case, but most of the time contacting a dissatisfied customer, client or colleague via the telephone is a sure-fire way to resolve the situation in both a more timely manner and with a solution more favorable to you than one you would have agreed to via email.

      People aren’t the same on the phone as they are in their words, much of the time.

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